Mitchell: The Overrated Gamecocks
SC quarterback Connor Shaw
SC quarterback Connor Shaw
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 6, 2012


When discussing 2012 South Carolina football with folks around the country, everyone says the same thing: if the chips fall into place…if the ball bounces right…if all the question marks are answered. The one constant with this Carolina team is a whole lot of “IF”, and that’s hardly a comfortable peg on which to hang one's hat.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

Perhaps it’s simply well-deserved respect for the Head Ball Coach, but the 2012 South Carolina football team has been receiving more than its fair share of preseason accolades. The USA Today/Coaches Poll released last week had SC resting comfortably among the nation’s top ten programs. One ESPN analyst even went so far as to suggest the Gamecocks will finish the season 11-1.

Yet there are more question marks surrounding this Carolina team than Mitt Romney’s taxes. Outside of the Gamecocks’ defensive line, which might be one of the best in the conference, if not the nation, there is considerable uncertainty at every position on the roster, along with a schedule that’s particularly unkind.

As a result, these preseason expectations for South Carolina are grossly optimistic.

OFFENSE

It is most important to begin with the offensive line, which it's typically agreed is the engine that drives football success – particularly in the SEC. Carolina’s line returns just two starters and will be counting on two children with virtually no experience to anchor the ends.

Ask you military buddies how comfortable they are with inexperience at the ends of a line.

But it’s even worse than that…if you look at the Gamecocks’ 3 deep at offensive tackle, there’s not a single upperclassman in the lot. Good thing tailback Marcus Lattimore likes hitting the A gap.

Which takes us to the uber-talented Mr. Lattimore, who headlines a Carolina running back corps that’s certainly deep, but there’s little to scare opposing defenses after Lattimore – backups Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles were both inconsistent in their play last season. Early reports out of Columbia suggest Lattimore has fully recovered from his ACL injury that sidelined him last year; but even if he’s back to 100% (which is a big if), Marcus has still yet to finish a season on his cleats.

If anything happens to Lattimore and this offense must rely on its receiving corps, the Gamecocks are really in trouble. It appears likely that Carolina will count on a true freshman, Shaq Roland, to replace the excellent but departed Alshon Jeffery. The sky’s the limit for the 6-1, 175 pound Roland, though receiver could be the second hardest position to adjust to in the move from high school to college, behind offensive line. After Roland, there’s a whole lot of average…Gamecock fans can expect to see opposing teams stack the box until a passing threat can be proven.

To get the ball to those receivers, Steve Spurrier will rely almost exclusively on quarterback Connor Shaw. The junior started nine games last season and turned heads in the Kentucky game, after finally replacing the troubled Stephen Garcia for good. Against the Wildcats, Shaw posted an impressive passing efficiency rating of 167.5. After that, however, Shaw began a precipitous decent back to earth.

In the following weeks, his passing efficiency rating dropped with each game, from Miss State (115.4), to Tennessee (103.4), to Arkansas (99), to Florida (90)… He closed well with out of conference competition, but Carolina’s success in 2012 will be dependent on conference play, and they have one of the more difficult stretches of any SEC team this year (more on that in a moment).

DEFENSE

There is no question about this defensive line. It is one of the nation’s best, and it's deep, talented and experienced. It will also have to play at its best virtually every time it takes the field to compensate for a defensive back seven that is the weakest link of this team.

The 2012 linebackers may be equal in talent to the 2011 team, but that unit saw a material year-over-year drop in run defense (from 12 in the nation in 2010 to 45), sacks (7 to 26) and tackles for loss (18 to 31). Moreover, only Shaq Wilson is a true returning starter at the position; DeVonte Holloman started 10 games at safety last year and Damario Jeffery was a backup.

However, the real concern for SC is its secondary, which is about to experience a major decline from last year’s squad that finished the year ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The Gamecocks must replace everyone but safety D.J. Swearinger, and that includes defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, now the head coach at Southern Miss. SC will likely have one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC in 2012.

Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, their schedule is likely to amplify this weakness. During a brutal five game stretch, SC plays three pass-heavy offenses in UGA, Tennessee and Arkansas, surrounding two brutal road games against LSU and Florida that are bound to leave some bruises. There are three loses in that stretch; four if Lattimore isn’t 100%.

As if that were not enough, the Gamecocks will have to do it all relying on youth across the board. SC returns only 11 starters, compared to 19 for Tennessee, 17 for Florida, 16 for Georgia, 15 for Vanderbilt, 13 for LSU & Arkansas, and 12 for Mizzou. In fact, the Gamecocks won’t face a single conference team in 2012 with fewer returning starters…Kentucky ties SC with 11. Not to mention Spurrier must replace both kickers on Special Teams.

11-1???

When discussing 2012 South Carolina football with folks around the country, everyone says the same thing: if the chips fall into place…if the ball bounces right…if all the question marks are answered. The one constant with this Carolina team is a whole lot of “IF”, and that’s hardly a comfortable peg on which to hang one's hat.


Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb




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